According to legend, when Buddha was growing old he convened his disciples for an important discourse. And when they gathered and sat down silently, reverently waiting to hear their aging Master speak, the Buddha arose, came forward on the flower-decked platform, looked over his audience of disciples and monks, then bent down and picked up a flower which he raised to the level of his eyes. Then, without uttering a word, he returned to his seat. His followers looked at each other in bewilderment, not understanding the meaning of his silence. Only the venerable Mahakasyapa serenely smiled at the Master. And the Master smiled back at him and wordlessly bequeathed to him the spiritual meaning of his wordless sermon. And that, according to legend, was the moment Zen was born.

Zen means waking up to the present moment. That is, perceiving this moment exactly as it is, rather than through the filter of our ideas, opinions, etc. One way to practice this is to ask yourself a Big Question, such as “What am I?” If you ask such a question strongly and sincerely, what appears is “Don’t Know.” This don’t-know is before thinking. If you keep it moment to moment, then everything is clear. Then, each moment, whatever you’re doing, just do it. When you’re sitting, just sit; when you’re eating, just eat; and so on. According to Zen, existence is found in the silence of the mind (no-mind), beyond the chatter of our internal dialog. Existence, from the Zen perspective is something that is only happening spontaneously, and it is not just our thoughts. All of life that we perceive is constantly in a state of change. Every atom in the universe is somewhere different every millionth of a second.

What then is existence? Zen says that it is instantaneous. Since the earth is constantly moving, and our thoughts and our bodies are constantly in a process of fluctuation, then what we really are, can only be experienced in each moment. Think of a view. Is it what it was a second ago, or what it is now? In fact the moment we say the word “view”, the view has already changed into something new. In fact, anything that we can explain, according to this viewpoint, must be past-tense. Even if it’s about our most immediate feelings and thoughts, it is not the same experience the second after it passes through our minds. Researchers estimate that our minds perceive 12,000 separate impressions every second. This is in terms of everything that we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.

Zen says that we don’t really experience existence, because we are too busy experiencing our own subjective, version of existence. How then can we experience existence itself? If we don’t create existence, then existence simply IS. The problem is, that we are usually trying to create our own model of the world. Whatever existence we create, it will be an extremely limited view, and that isn’t existence itself. In Zen a less subjective awareness is cultivated through silent meditation, and contemplating on certain sentences, known as Koans. A koan is defined in “The Three Pillars Of Zen” as, “Formulation, in baffling language, pointing to ultimate Truth. Koans cannot be solved by recourse to a logical reasoning, but only awakening a deeper level of the mind beyond the discursive intellect.”  example… “the sound of one hand clapping.”

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I see one object with my two eyes. The sun rises and sets and yet the sun is stationary. I see a blue sky above me and yet space above and all around is void and black as night. The mind and the brain are two different things. Contemplation is a natural trait, as is emotional expression, expressing yourself with calm wisdom, is not zen. Existing in the moment, with silent enlightenment, is zen.

Knowing Fish

One day Chuang Tzu and a friend were walking by a river.“Look at the fish swimming about,” said Chuang Tzu, “They are really enjoying themselves.”“You are not a fish,” replied the friend, “So you can’t truly know that they are enjoying themselves.”“You are not me,” said Chuang Tzu. “So how do you know that I do not know that the fish are enjoying themselves?”


“Zen is not about eliminating thoughts, but illuminating them.”